To Succeed in Sales, Start Thinking Like an Executive. Dr. Stephen Timme and Melody Astley from FinListics Solutions highlight how to tailor the message of the business and financial benefits of your solutions in a way that addresses an executive buyer's needs, interests, and issues.
The following is adapted from Insight-Led Selling.
A sales vice president at one of the largest global technology companies once told the story of meeting Lee Iacocca, the Chrysler CEO credited with saving the automobile company in the 1980s.
The VP told Iacocca about all the solutions his company offered, but he seemed unimpressed. Then the VP’s wife spoke up to tell Iacocca how they’d just purchased a Chrysler minivan, which she loved, and that she had a few ideas for making it even better.
In the end, Iacocca gave the woman his card and told her to call him if she had any other suggestions. He completely ignored her husband, the VP!
As this story shows, to sell to executives, you must think like an executive. You need to tailor the message of the business and financial benefits of your solutions in a way that addresses their needs, interests, and issues—not yours—and gains their trust.
What is Your Executive Customer’s Biggest Concern?
Imagine you’re an executive looking at a mountainous pile of work that needs your attention. The last thing you want to do is have a pointless meeting with a vendor who just wants to sell you something and doesn’t understand your main problems and sources of stress or how to fix them. That’s essentially how Iacocca felt about the VP’s generic pitch.
Now imagine a seller approaches you and says, “I know the top three items on your to-do list, why they’re so hard, and how to help you cross them off with much less stress.”
Suddenly, you’d have plenty of time for that meeting, right? The VP’s wife, with targeted suggestions based on user experience, represented much more value to Chrysler, even though she wasn’t there to pitch anything.
How can you create targeted suggestions? You need to gain executive insights—information on your customer’s goals and business strategies. These insights put you in the buyer’s mindset so you can understand what they value. Insights allow you to have a more impactful business-focused conversation with decision makers. Finally, they lead to additional opportunities by taking a more holistic view of the customer. In short, executive insights put you in your customer’s shoes so you can shape your sales pitch to catch their attention.
Speak Sales Language at the Executive Level
It’s not enough to have executive insights on your customer—you need to use that knowledge to convey how your product or service solves their problems.
The Iacocca story clearly illustrates that there’s a right way and a wrong way to speak to executives, and you absolutely must do your homework. You have to talk to them about what matters to them, not you nor your company. They care about their business, their products, and their customers. Mostly, they care about achieving business outcomes, which include both operational improvements and gains in financial performance.
Although the goals of executive stakeholders may align with the company’s goals (such as improving profitability), how each stakeholder gets there differs with initiatives often unique to the department. Focus on knowing how they think, what their goals and key metrics are, why business and financial value matters to them, and how to talk to them.
What Executives Really Want from You
Once you’re thinking like them, what do executives really want from you as a sales professional?
Executive buyers want three main things from you, the seller. First, they want to learn something from you that they don’t already know.
They also want you to demonstrate how your solutions can help them achieve their desired business outcomes. This is typically accomplished by improving operational performance, perhaps through greater efficiency, agility, and resiliency, which leads to improved financial performance.
Lastly, they want you to make their life easier. Executives are constantly fielding input internally. Sometimes they need your expert advice to sort through the noise and help them choose the best move.
Giving an executive buyer what they want benefits the seller as much as the buyer. By knowing their business and satisfying these three requirements, you’ll build credibility. You’ll also begin to see the buyer’s problem or goal—and their strategies and initiatives for solving that problem or reaching that goal—from their point of view.
Thinking Like an Executive Improves the Sales Process for Everyone
Getting in your customer’s head and gaining insights into their priorities, goals, and strategies might sound like a lot of work, but it will make the sales process easier for everyone involved.
The clearer you are on their perspective, the easier it will be for you to empathize with them and actually care about helping them. Instead of just trying to sell them something, you’ll become invested in their success. Being an advocate for your buyer can lead to a deal for you and a better business outcome for them.
Most importantly, thinking like an executive and framing your pitch to speak to their unique needs will make it easier for your customer to say yes, meaning more and smoother sales deals for you.
For more advice on succeeding in sales, you can find Insight-Led Selling on Amazon.
Dr. Stephen G. Timme is President and Founder of FinListics Solutions, a company that helps B2B professionals develop greater customer insights and better demonstrate the value of their solutions. Before founding FinListics, Stephen was a professor of finance at Emory University and Georgia State University, an adjunct professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a consultant for numerous Fortune 500 companies.
Melody Astley is FinListics’ Chief Revenue Officer. With a background that includes leadership and senior sales roles at Gartner and IBM, Melody is responsible for strategic business growth and FinListics’ sales and marketing engines. She leads workshops and presents at global conferences, such as Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) and the RevGen Digital Summit.